Copyright and Viral Advertising in Participatory Culture

13 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2015 Last revised: 18 Jul 2015

Date Written: January 3, 2015


This paper offers an introduction to current theory on viral advertising from literature in sociology and communication, exploring the contradictory status of the viral advertisement as a media form. The three principal differentiating characteristics of the viral video compared with other forms of advertising are its aesthetic, its ambiguous authorship, and its distribution logic. Next, the paper examines each of these characteristics in relation to copyright law, identifying aspects of the viral media form which are in tension with existing intellectual property law. It closes by suggesting that legal scholars pay much greater attention to the status of viral advertisement in debates about the ‘future of copyright’ in the digital age. Viral advertisements represent one potential alignment of commercial interest and the interests of online communities. The development of this relationship has depended on the willingness of copyright owners to tolerate uses of the work beyond their control.

Keywords: Copyright, viral, advertising, intellectual property, participatory culture, YouTube

Suggested Citation

Erickson, Kristofer, Copyright and Viral Advertising in Participatory Culture (January 3, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Kristofer Erickson (Contact Author)

University of Leeds ( email )

School of Media and Communication
Leeds, Yorkshire LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

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